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Former Missouri Representative Cora Faith Walker died of heart condition, St. Louis medical examiner rules

Dr. Michael Graham said no illicit substances were found in Walker's system.

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis medical examiner has determined former St. Louis Rep. Cora Faith Walker died from a heart condition at the age of 37.

Faith was a high-level administrator for St. Louis County Executive Sam Page. She died after collapsing in a hallway at a downtown hotel on March 11, hours after attending a birthday party for St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones. The two vacationed in Jamaica during the week before her death.

Speculation that Walker’s death was drug-related swirled after DEA agents questioned first responders and served subpoenas at the hotel to obtain surveillance footage.

St. Louis Medical Examiner Michael Graham said he watched that surveillance footage as part of his investigation.

"Obviously this is a very unfortunate event, but fortunately, there's nothing nefarious about it," Graham said. "And the fact that it was on video really shows you that there's nothing hiding that we don't know about."

Graham said Walker's toxicology report showed the presence of prescription drugs that were "all expected to be there in the amounts we would expect to see. There were no illicit substances found."

He determined Walker died from a condition known as nonischemic cardiomyopathy.

“It’s a disease of the heart muscle,” Graham said. “It usually affects older people with high blood pressure, but she did not have high blood pressure.

“We don’t know why some people develop it. Hers was a fairly mild form. It essentially short-circuited the electrical system in her heart, causing an arrhythmia and she dropped over. We don’t normally think about people dropping over dead, and it is fairly unusual, but it’s not an usual age for the presentation of this condition.”

He also said he did not believe any potential previous illicit substance use would have caused this condition.

“If there was, I would have called this alcoholic heart disease, or cocaine heart disease,” he said. “But there was no evidence of that.”

Graham said he also conducted some genetic testing with Walker's family to determine whether the condition could have been familial. He said those results showed no history of the condition within her family tree.

A spokeswoman for Walker's family said Tuesday the family did not have any statements reacting to the Medical Examiner's findings.

"She did have some evidence about 10 years ago of some subtle cardiac abnormalities, but they seem to have gone away," Graham said. "So I'm not sure that that has anything to do with what we're seeing now."

Graham said most people who have cardiomyopathy come in with evidence of heart failure. 

"Occasionally you get someone who is well compensated, who doesn't have any symptoms, or at least none that we know about, and that effectively just drops over dead, but that's the minority among the minority that have this disease," he said. "There is a lot of other things I'd be concerned about before getting this."

The National Library of Medicine defines the condition as “a disease of the myocardium associated with mechanical or electrical dysfunction exhibiting inappropriate ventricular hypertrophy or dilatation. The causes are numerous, but an increasing number of nonischemic disorders are being recognized as genetic in cause.”

First elected in 2016 to represent the Missouri House's 74th District as a Democrat, she resigned in 2019 to take the job with Page's administration. Her county biography says she had overseen government relations, regulatory affairs and public policy operations.

Among other things, Walker served on a task force studying women's participation and advancement in the workforce. On behalf of Page, she had also commented on efforts to bring Afghan refugees to St. Louis. She also had worked on Medicaid expansion and health reform, the county biography said.

Walker’s name also has been in the news recently.

Just one week ago, Missouri Senator Steven Roberts released a confidential settlement agreement he reached with Walker in 2019 after she accused him of sexual assault in 2016. It included a statement attributable to Walker, which read, in part, “I cannot deny that the sexual intercourse with Mr. Roberts on the evening of Aug. 26, 2016 may have been consensual. What I can say with certainty is that I no longer believe that I was administered any form of ‘date rape’ drug, and as I have previously stated on numerous occasions, I was not too intoxicated to consent to sexual activity.”

In an interview with 5 On Your Side, Roberts expressed condolences to Walker’s family, saying in part, “It’s a tragedy anytime someone dies that young.”

A second woman, Amy Harms, spoke publicly about a $100,000 settlement she reached with Roberts last week. Harms was the first woman to publicly accuse Roberts of sexual assault.

RELATED: Woman who accused Missouri Congressional candidate of sexual assault talks about $100K settlement

Walker remembered

On Thursday, Walker's family released the following statement:

"Cora Faith Walker dedicated her life's work to public service, social justice, women's reproductive rights, and health equity access. She was a strident advocate and bravely stood in solidary with victims of sexual assault and sexual violence. St Louis and Missouri citizens have lost an ardent advocate who approached her public service in the interest of the public good and public trust. 

The Walker and Drew Family extend our heartfelt appreciation to the Saint Louis Coroner, Police, Fire and EMT services professionals. We extend our gratitude to the good Samaritans who attempted to provide medical assistance and comfort as Cora Faith experienced a medical trauma. 

We once again issue our call for the community to remain committed and devoted to continuing Cora Faith's work."

Congresswoman Cori Bush honored Walker with a tribute for Women's History Month.

Bush posted a tweet on March 21 sharing a photo of her holding a large photo of Walker. The U.S. Capitol is in the background.

Bush spoke about Walker on the floor of Congress on March 18, the day Walker was laid to rest. 

Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri, Nurses4Newborns, Missouri Democrats and dozens of individuals and organizations shared tributes on social media.

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